I was asked recently to make some brief notes about some of the things I thought may have led to my becoming a writer. Here are a few things I came up with. . .
When I was about eight or nine, I won a medal in writing competition for a sci-fi story called Journey to the Moon. At about the same time I can definitely remember telling my teacher that my ambition was to write and illustrate my own book (as well as becoming an astronaut, of course). The competition was run by a local newspaper in Gibraltar where I was living at the time, and there was something about seeing my work in print at such a young age that I think stayed with me and shaped my idea of who I was or who I was going to become.
My teacher at that time really encouraged me to write (and to draw) and it may even have been her who entered me for the competition. I can certainly remember her getting me to take something I'd written to the headmaster so that he could read it too. Who knows what any of us would be without good teachers? Or bad ones for that matter.
I suppose I had a natural flair for writing. I certainly always enjoyed writing stories at school. But then I had always enjoyed art too and it was art college that provided me with an escape from the dull office job I saw looming ahead of me.
Not that I stopped writing. I had attempted a fantasy novel in my teens, and later, at art college, I destroyed an existentialist novel I had begun by ceremoniously burning it in a saucepan as a symbolic (and with the gift of hindsight, rather Woody Allenish) gesture to a girl I was gloomily besotted with. I wrote some poetry. About being gloomily besotted.
Other people's books obviously played their part. I was not a great reader until much later in life. When I was young I was often drawn to books by their illustrations - this was certainly true of the Charles Keeping-illustrated Henry Treece and Rosemary Sutcliffe books I loved when I was ten or eleven. I have always enjoyed seeing good art twinned with great writing (or even great art twinned with OK writing).
I loved strips. I still do when they are any good. Reading Peanuts and Jules Feiffer in the Observer magazine in the 1970s definitely inspired me. I was an avid reader of American comics as a boy - The Silver Surfer, Dr Strange, and Conan the Barbarian being among my favourites - and the love of that way of telling a story has never left me, nor has my admiration for people who do it well. There are some amazingly talented people working in graphic novels today. More of that at a later date.
After college I moved to London to pursue a career as an illustrator. I began plotting short stories and keeping notebooks. A chance meeting in a pub led me to designing posters for the Dog Theatre Company. The plays were written by a very clever man called Clive Barker, who unbeknown to me was writing the horror short stories that would make his name. Suddenly I knew a real writer and I summoned up the courage to show him a story I had written. The fact that he read it and talked to me in a matter of fact way - writer to writer - was the start of me thinking that perhaps I could get something published.
I did a six year stint on the Economist as an illustrator and there met Chris Riddell. We did a strip cartoon together in the Independent on Sunday called Bestiary and it was Chris who later suggested that I write something for children. Chris handed what I had written to Annie Eaton at Transworld and that boyhood dream of writing and illustrating my own book was soon achieved with my first published book - Dog Magic! It was not the existentialist novel my twenty year-old self would have wanted to see published, but I suspect my eight year-old self would have been over the moon.